Hors d’oeuvres set out on a table, a cake at the end of the row. A white arch stands alone, waiting for company. A bride puts on her veil. A groom waits for his bride-to-be. Family and friends gather to celebrate the happy day.
What seemed like an ordinary wedding was actually an incredible feat involving paperwork, time constraints and a risky heart operation less than a week away.
Shawna Hannon and Pedro Ortiz were finally married, after 10 years of togetherness, on Friday at Einstein Medical Center. Their ceremony marked the end of a week-long struggle to obtain a marriage license before Ortiz undergoes heart surgery.
Ortiz was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and has been in-and-out of the hospital since May. He's scheduled for a heart implant procedure Monday, which will be followed by an induced coma and almost eighteen weeks of in-hospital recovery.
Ortiz had only one request before going under the knife -- to marry the love of his life, Hannon, just in case he didn't make it through.
The couple had filed for a marriage license last week, but were turned down because of City Hall policy which requires both parties to be present to sign their license. An obvious impossibility given Ortiz's current condition as a bed-ridden patient at Eistein.
The couple didn’t give up hope. They worked with Einstein doctors and provided documentation of Ortiz’s condition. Given their special circumstances, the Marriage License Bureau granted the couple their request.
And so the wedding planning began.
Initially, the couple planned to have a simple bedside ceremony to finalize their nuptials. But once hospital nurses learned of the couple’s circumstances, they rallied together to give them the wedding of their dreams.
An empty conference room provided the backdrop for the ceremony. A converted family waiting room was decorated for the reception. The bride prepared for her walk down the "aisle" (a hospital hallway) in a doctor’s on-call break area.
The groom was waiting for his bride in a wheelchair under the arch.
Hannon, escorted by her 15-year-old son Jimmy, made her way to her waiting groom.
When Ortiz saw his bride for the first time, the only word he could muster was “wow.”
With family, friends, and hospital staff watching, Honorable Judge Maria McLaughlin of the Court of Common Pleas began the ceremony.
“I am just so impressed, not only by the story, but just by what everybody has put together in such a short period of time,” she said. “I hope this gives you comfort.”
The couple appeared on the edge of tears throughout the judge’s touching speech, but held it together long enough to recite their vows.
“I will love you and comfort you, and honor you and keep you, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live,” an emotional bride and groom assured each other.
She then pronounced them husband and wife.
The wedded couple’s first kiss was met with applause and a little bit of laughter.
“That was a long kiss!" McLaughlin teased the newlyweds. "Your health is pretty good!”
When the laughter in the room died down, the judge gave the couple her blessing, and a wish for the future.
“Congratulations! I wish you all the best. Many, many years of health and happiness.”
As guests retreated to the reception room for light snacks and a toast, the newly-minted Mrs. Ortiz looked over at her husband lovingly.
“He’s so beautiful, isn’t he?”
The bride’s sister, Vikki Torres, called them the luckiest couple ever.
“Three days of running around constantly, and now we can finally relax,” said Torres. “Not the greatest of circumstances, but he’ll be fine and he’ll make it out of here.”
“Through it all they always were for each other...” said Nurse Bill Shay. “A true love story.”
As for the happy couple, they were in disbelief.
“This is amazing,” Mrs. Ortiz said. “I swear I’m dreaming.”
“I’m gonna wake up, and I’ll be like, it’s a dream, it’s all a dream,” said the new husband.
And although the couple is thankful for what is sure to be one of the most memorable days of their lives, the reality of Ortiz's arduous medical journey stayed in the back of both their minds.
“It is scary, but I know that he’s gonna be okay,” she said. “This is going to be the beginning of our brand new lives together.”